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Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Taxi ripoffs

A couple of weeks ago I was in Kuala Lumpur and wanted to go to Melaka. I was staying in the Chinatown-Petaling Street area and the bus station was just around the corner. Or so I thought. When I got there with my far too many bags I could see that the entrance I usually used was closed. I asked a passerby how to get inside. 'Oh, it's closed. They're rebuilding it.'

I asked where I needed to go to get a bus to Melaka. Fortunately I was more or less outside a railway station on the line that would take me to the temporary bus station. I didn't have a deadline and it was still early in the day so not a big deal. When I got off the train I had to walk perhaps 200 metres to the bus station. The bus fare to Melaka was about RM12 (about A$4).

The Melaka bus station is no longer in the centre of Melaka. Unfortunately these days, it seems, bus stations are not being built in the centre of cities, or downtown as the Americans say, they are built out in the suburbs. When I first went to Melaka the bus station was in the Hung Tuah area which was not all that far from Chinatown. If that was where you were heading you could walk assuming you knew the way. It's still walkable from the new bus station but only to a long-distance trekker with a boy to carry his luggage. Now there are taxis to take the rest of us there. There are also buses if you know which one to get and I do but this time I was carrying way too many bags and felt I really needed a taxi.

But I needed something else even more when the bus pulled into the bus station. I needed to eat. So when the taxi tout approached this skinny guy with far too may bags I was able to say 'No, I'm going to eat first.' That was only postponing the inevitable. So I returned a while later and tried to negotiate a fare. It didn't matter who I asked. The fare was RM30. I pointed out that I'd travelled all the way from KL for only RM12 and that paying RM30 to go the last two or three kilometres was absolutely crazy. But they wouldn't budge. I didn't like either of the other options, ie bussing or walking so I shut up and paid up. BTW, taxis in Melaka don't have meters.

I had a delightful two weeks in Melaka. I had forgotten how much I love this place. Eventually it was time to return to KL and the guesthouse rang a taxi to get me to the bus station. When he turned up, I asked how much.

'Fifteen ringgit'.

I'd already put my far-too-many bags in his boot. He could have asked for 30 or maybe more. But this time it seemed I'd got one of the honest taxi drivers. I trust there are a few more of them.

When the bus reached the bus station in suburban KL there were half a dozen taxi touts waiting at the door. I was the last to get off. There was only one tout left. 'Where you go? You want taxi?'

'No, thank you. I'm getting the train.'

'Train? No train here. You have to walk six kilometres.'

'Bullshit,' I said, grabbed my far too many bags from the hold of the bus and walked past him. Ten minutes later I was on a train on the way to Chinatown.

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